New Coast Guard Academy Lab to Train Cybersecurity Officers

Coast Guard Academy Class of 2022 participates in Day One, the start of Swab Summer and the beginning of their 200-week journey to becoming an officer at the Academy, July 2, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Diana Sherbs)
Coast Guard Academy Class of 2022 participates in Day One, the start of Swab Summer and the beginning of their 200-week journey to becoming an officer at the Academy, July 2, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Diana Sherbs)

NEW LONDON -- A new 2,000-square-foot cyber lab at the Coast Guard Academy will be used by cadets studying to become cybersecurity officers in the Coast Guard.

This year, the academy started offering a new major in cyber systems, the first new major to be created since the 1980s. The idea is to get cadets engaged in cybersecurity earlier in their careers, before they become officers in the Coast Guard.

"The Coast Guard is recognizing that cyber is everywhere," said Cmdr. Joe Benin, program coordinator for the cyber systems major, adding that the service needs more "cyber competent officers."

Academy officials say they are impressed by the interest in the new major so far. Sixty-six cadets in the Class of 2022 expressed initial interest, despite the cyber systems major not yet being listed on the academy's application form. Of them, 31 said they were interested in declaring cyber systems as their major after receiving a follow-up briefing. Cadets don't get formally accepted into their major until the beginning of their second year at the academy. Already, those applying to be in the academy's Class of 2023 are emailing Benin, the program coordinator, to say they are interested in the new major.

The Coast Guard created four faculty positions and two technician positions to support the major.

Once cadets get formally admitted into the cyber systems major, the intent is to have them begin the process of getting their top secret clearance, which can take up to two years. So when they graduate, they'll be able to contribute to cybersecurity missions, most of which require a top secret clearance. All cadets go through the process of obtaining a secret clearance.

The new cyber lab, which is expected to start being used in a couple of weeks, will serve as a hub for cadets training to be next generation of cybersecurity officers for the Coast Guard. Large computer screens line a brick wall at the front of the room. Underneath the fresh carpet are hookups for power and data. In the lab, cadets will have access to a network, isolated from the academy's other networks, to learn and practice their skills. The construction of the $1.3 million lab was funded by the academy's alumni association.

In 2017, the academy started sending graduating cadets to work for Coast Guard Cyber Command. It's anticipated that two to four cadets a year will go on to work for the command but the majority of cyber systems majors will serve on Coast Guard ships, as is the case for most cadets graduating from the academy.

While some might question the need for a cybersecurity officer aboard a Coast Guard ship, the systems onboard -- navigation, command and control, communications -- all are networked together and could be hacked. The cadets majoring in cyber systems, once assigned to these ships, will help protect these systems and know how to identify when there's a problem and how to fix it. Benin ventured that the Coast Guard is "on the cusp" of seeing "chief technology officers" on its ships.

But it's not just ships that are at risk. In 2017, a cyberattack against Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk disrupted shipping operations worldwide and shut down the Port of Los Angeles' largest shipping terminal for a brief time, costing the company an estimated $200 million to $300 million.

This article is written by Julia Bergman from The Day, New London, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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